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Volume 36, Number 3

Richardton, ND 58652

July 2008

Fr. Thomas ministers to staff and visitors at Yellowstone Park, but this does not stop these elk from visiting the non-denominational chapel at Mammoth Springs.

Spreading the Good News

                                         by Fr. Thomas Wordekemper

                                         and Fr. Warren Heidgen

      One aspect of every Christian life is to proclaim the Good News to others. Monks should certainly do this, and monk-priests are often called upon to do this in places away from their monasteries. This summer, two of our members are in Wyoming. Father Warren is at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne and Fr. Thomas is at Yellowstone Park.

      Fr. Warren has transferred his monastic stability to Assumption Abbey from Holy Cross Abbey of Cañon City, Colorado, which recently closed. This summer, Fr. Warren is assigned to the Cathedral in Cheyenne to provide backup for priests going on vacation or priests escorting the Wyoming Diocese pilgrims to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. The Cathedral is a busy place: three Masses each day, a hospital 2 blocks away with a major trauma center, in addition to the normal routine of parish life—confessions, appointments, people wanting to talk, baptisms, funerals, weddings, etc. The Cathedral rectory hosts a dinner each noon for the clergy of the city. So, on any given day, there may be up to ten around the table. Fr. Warren notes that this is a great way to get a pulse on what is happening in the Diocese. Cheyenne is the only diocese in Wyoming.

      Fr. Thomas spends Monday through Friday in Cody, WY, at the headquarters of the Yellowstone Park “parish.” His 400 mile weekend trek begins on Friday when he departs for the Park, specifically Old Faithful, where the parish provides a camper for his overnight stays. Mass is celebrated at 4:00 p.m. Saturday at an outdoor amphitheater at Canyon, about a 75 minute drive from Old Faithful. It is not unusual to hear or see bears at that Mass site, so the bear spray repellant must be handy for the congregation to use, just in case. After Mass he drives another 75 minutes to the 6:30 p.m. Mass at Mammoth, located about 5 miles from the Montana border. The church, a quaint Tudor-style built in the 1930s, is used for many interdenominational services. Sunday begins with 9:00 a.m. Mass at the recreation hall at Old Faithful followed by 11:30 Mass at Lake Village recreation hall, another 75 minute drive. Last summer, Fr. Thomas drove 5,800 miles.

      Father Thomas never knows what he will encounter on these drives. At times one can be held up by a herd of bison ambling down the center of the road, a bunch of elk browsing along the shoulder, a wolf dashing across the traffic or bears eating berries in the ditches. However, the most dangerous road hazard is the tourist! It is amazing what people will do to get a picture of wildlife: stop in the middle of the road on a blind curve, leave doors wide open to get a photo of a bear, bison, elk, or duck! Even though signs everywhere caution against approaching wildlife, people do so anyway or send their children near an animal for a memorable photo opportunity.

      One may think the best part of this job would be the beautiful scenery; the abundance of wildlife; the fascinating and diverse geography ranging from the shooting geysers, to bubbling mud pots, to soaring mountains or clean, fresh air and clear blue skies. However, the most rewarding part, for Fr. Thomas, is the celebration of the Eucharist with people who want to be there. That may not sound like much, but you’d be amazed at the amount of energy and enthusiasm and plain gratitude that so many people have for the opportunity to attend Mass in the Park. Fr. Thomas has met people from Peru to Scandinavia, from California to Japan and many, many points in between.

      Together, Fr. Warren and Fr. Thomas provide important service to the people of Wyoming, and another way that monks of Assumption Abbey can serve the greater Church and world. Celebrating the Mass with such a diverse group of people each week who desire to thank God for the gift of life, the beauty of creation, for the grace to recognize God in creation and in our brothers and sisters, makes preaching the Good News to all peoples a rewarding experience for both monks.



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